The technology of satellite radio may be complex, but its appeal is easy to understand. Sirius and XM are basing their marketing campaigns on the following:
Both services offer a similar mix of rock, jazz, country, blues, news, comedy and talk. And both generate their own programming. Sirius maintains 76 studios in its Manhattan headquarters; XM has a comparable facility in its Washington headquarters.
Since their signals are digital, XM and Sirius boast excellent sound quality.
XM's monthly fee of $9.99 is cheaper. Sirius' monthly price of $12.95 allows it to avoid ads.
Some reviewers complain that tall buildings and other obstructions occasionally block XM's signal. But I suffered no interruptions of either service during a week's worth of motoring in metropolitan Detroit.
For the test, Sirius loaned Automotive News a Mercedes CLK equipped with an aftermarket Clarion audio system. XM provided a Cadillac Seville equipped with a factory sound system.
The Clarion user interface was abysmally complex, making it difficult to give Sirius a complete evaluation. I spent more time with XM. After a couple of days of channel-hopping, I settled down to a heavy rotation among five channels: blues, swing, salsa, classic jazz and 1960s rock.
It was easy to toggle between XM's service and the car's CD, tape deck and conventional radio. But it was hard to find XM channels that I had not previously pre-set.
XM can solve this by designing an audio system with buttons numbered from 0 to 9. Punching a three-button code for station 1-0-9 would not pose a serious distraction while driving.
Would I subscribe to either service? Maybe. I frequently listen to jazz or National Public Radio during my 45-minute commute. I'm satisfied with my favorite stations, but I enjoyed the variety that XM and Sirius offer.